Last month, I was one of the International judges in the 2013 Wines of Portugal Challenge, an annual event that was recently opened up to include wine-type-folks from outside of Portugal in the judging pool.
The results of that competition have just been published, and as their guest (okay, okay, and to make up a bit for hammering them about our butt-numbing trip to the Dão), I thought I’d share the results of the competition with you. Only, it will be 1WD style, so prepare for the opinionated and somewhat freakish.
I’m happy to report that the competition was both fun and well-run, apart from having to reuse stemware (and the tendency of some of my amiable panel-mates to fall into native Portuguese when discussing the results of each wine, which meant that in some cases I only understood that they were arguing – or agreeing – about a wine’s relative merits). I’m not so happy to report that the Portuguese still seem hell-bent on pushing Touriga Nacional as their flagship red wine grape, despite the fairly well-accepted notions that a) the TN wines, while potentially excellent and long-lived, are acquired tastes and are largely inferior to their blended counterparts, and b) Dão and Douro are a lot easier to pronounce for most English-speakers. Just sayin’.
Since many of you have no visibility into how these competitions work, I should share that no two wine competitions are run identically (at least not in my growing experience with them), and in this case our panel consisted of a couple of international judges (duh), and mostly folks from the Portuguese wine industry (Port, Madeira, etc.), headed up by a Portuguese winemaker as our panel chief (charged with keeping us all in line).
We tasted all of the wines blind, and then inputted our opinions electronically into a PC via drop-down boxes for various categories of evaluation (one of which, confusingly, was typicity, even though we tasted blind and weren’t told what we were evaluating). The drop-down choices translated in the system as numeric scores, which then translated into a medal (gold, silver, bronze, or no award).
I hated this system…
Don’t get me wrong, it worked; it was efficient, ran pretty smoothly, and provided the benefit of instantly tabulating and graphing the results. I hated it because I hate assigning numerical scores to wines. But I also hated it because, as most of you will probably have guessed by now, we ended up sort of jerry-rigging the category choices until the system pumped out the medal we thought the wine deserved. So the numbers didn’t actually help us much in the debates, which in these cases are never about scores and are always about what medal the wine deserves street having been tagged against its peers.
I’d rather just input what medal I’ve got in mind, on a fuzzier scale (low Silver, high Bronze, etc.), so that everyone else in the panel can see exactly where I stand, and we can quickly discuss any large discrepancies. But hey, this wasn’t the 2013 1WD Challenge, so I sucked it up and dealt with it.
Even though the pours were totally blind, it became apparent pretty quickly at one point that we were evaluating Douro reds, Alvarinho whites, etc. And in a couple of cases (shared below), those blind tastings put me well into a happy place.
Rather than re-publish all of the competition results verbatim, I thought I’d instead share what turned out to be my top three wines of the competition, as reported by the program with the drop-down-boxes-turned-funky-numbers. That “score” is included for each of my top three, purely for sh*ts-and-giggles purposes, and should NOT be taken as numerical ratings by me, because a) they came from a computer (where numbers belong!) and b) numerical ratings generally suck donkey bong and I do not use them (yes, I still mean it):
3) 2012 Quinta de Gomariz Alvarinho (Minho)
Price: about $12
Result: Silver (my “score” – 90)
A nice bargain. On the day I arrived in Lisbon, we were treated to a master class tasting of Alvarinho wines, and this one was included. I can’t say that I picked it out blind, but I can say that this wine will please many a crowd, because it’s almost sweet (about seven grams residual sugar, from my notes), but you can hardly discern it from all of the pithy citrus, banana, grapefruit, sour lemon, grass, and all-around amicability. If it could speak, it would probably be asking “may I give you a backrub?” As a snob, you’ll want to hate on this because of the RS… but the silver medal probably proves that you just shouldn’t be so damned snobby, alright?
2) 2010 Quinta do Vallado Reserva Field Blend (Douro)
Price: about $60
Result: Gold (my “score” – 91)
Welcome to the foodies’ high-end Douro (incidentally, their Touriga Nacional, which I tasted separately at another masterclass during the visit, was equally foodie-friendly in its freshness). At first, the density of this wine wouldn’t make you think it had that foodie appeal in it, but there’s freshness and floral action here to lighten things up despite the intense scaffolding, and they give it just enough of an elegant edge to offset the overall intensity. Think rococo on steel framing.
1) 2011 Vinhos Maçanita Maçanita (Douro)
Result: Gold (my “score” – 93)
Good luck finding this one in the states. If they don’t have wide representation here, hopefully a few sips of this intensely floral, fruity and powerful red in the right forward-thinking importer’s mouth ought to do the trick. It’s a Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz belnd, helmed by a young brother and sister team (António and Joaninha Maçanita) who appear to be hell-bent on conquering the Douro, and also appear to be doing everything right (so far, anyway).